Who Is To Be Blamed After the Snoul Battle?

In the 11/7/1974 airgram, the American Embassy in Saigon with the topic, Biographic Data on MG Nguyen Van Hieu touches upon the retreat of 8th Task Force /5th Infantry Division from Snoul to Loc Ninh in 5/1971 as follows:

15. In May 1971, General Hieu found his forces in the Snoul area facing an increasingly serious enemy threat. He requested permission to withdraw from Cambodia, but General Minh refused to grant him permission until the two 5th Division regiments were faced by a two-division enemy force. The two regiments were mauled in their withdrawal from Cambodia and General Hieu was blamed for the disaster. At American behest, and with General Minh’s active consent, Hieu was removed from command of the 5th Division on June 9, 1971.

Who blames General Hieu in this matter? The general public? His fellows-combatants? General Minh? President Thieu? The Joint General Staff?

It does not appear to be the majority of the general public or his fellow-combatants; the airgram adds:

16. Hieu’s dismissal, as reported by an Embassy officer on June 17, 1971, was a cause célèbre, primarily because of Hieu’s well-known reputation for personal integrity and for his strong personal interest in the welfare of his troops.

It does not appear to be President Thieu (at least officially) and the Joint General Staff, because

17. Hieu, although removed from command, was not in disgrace and on June 14, 1971 was appointed as the Deputy Commander of I Corps, under his former classmate LTG Hoang Xuan Lam.

Which means to be demoted after being blamed rather to be promoted after being praised according to the military protocol.

Furthermore, in a 3/14/2014 telephone conversation with LTC Pham The Phiet – currently residing in Oklahoma City and served at J3/JGS – I have been told that a JGS investigator team came to Lai Khe to investigate the Snoul battle and submitted a report to General Cao Van Vien. Based on the report, General Vien concluded that the person to be blamed was not General Hieu, 5th Infantry Division, but rather General Nguyen Van Minh, III Corps Commander.

Yet, General Minh, instead of assuming the responsibility, blamed General Hieu for the debacle:

15. In May 1971, General Hieu found his forces in the Snoul area facing an increasingly serious enemy threat. He requested permission to withdraw from Cambodia, but General Minh refused to grant him permission until the two 5th Division regiments were faced by a two-division enemy force. The two regiments were mauled in their withdrawal from Cambodia.

General Minh, in his oral report to President Thieu, even went as far as accusing General Hieu – according to General Tran Quang Khoi’s testimony – of colluding with this latter in attempting to bring the III Corps Armored Assault Task Force from Loc Ninh to Saigon to foment a coup.

In this particular case, General Hieu demonstrates more gallantry than General Minh, when he advised Major Tran Van Thuong, former 1/8th Battalion in the Snoul battle at the Dalat Military Academy in the end of 1971:

General Minh is leading the troops to defend our country, and his prestige needs to be upheld. If you care for the sake of our country, you then would understand the reason why we must let bygones be bygones, and forgive a few mistakes the General committed in the battle of Snoul. To err is human. I only regret not having the authority to honor all my fellow combatants of the Snoul battle.

In regard to the removal of 5th Infantry Division command, the Snoul battle outcome was a result but rather a pretext advanced by the American High Ranking Advisors at III Corps and by General Nguyen Van Minh.

As a matter of fact, the American High Ranking Advisors at III Corps hated General Hieu because he dared to criticize the Vietnamization program of Nixon government:

13. Hieu and the 5th Division were shortly involved in greatly expanded operations, a situation Hieu did not like because he believed the 5th Division was not yet ready for such an active combat role. By August 1970, at least one American advisor began to voice strong opposition to General Hieu’s conduct of the 5th Division. The Deputy Senior Advisor (2), III Corps, a BG, stated: “General Hieu’s pessimistic and contrary views, voiced freely and publicly, have colored the attitudes of many of his subordinate commanders and made them less responsive to efforts to get on with the Đồng Tiến program. It is hoped that time, which fortunately the Cambodian campaign has provided, and a growing realization that the 5th ARVN Division can perform its new and expanded mission, will modify General Hieu’s outlook. If not, he should be relieved of command.”

As for General Minh, as soon as he replaced General Do Cao Tri as III Corps Commander, he was looking for the opportunity to replace General Tri’s personnel with his minions to set up a corruption apparatus in III Corps. In 1972, General Hieu as Vice President’s Special Assistant in charge of Anti-corruption had the opportunity to investigate this corruption apparatus:

(c) Long Khanh Province Chief. Hieu said that Col. Mach Van Truong, recently appointed Province Chief of Long Khanh, had in the last few weeks made a number of approaches to Major Sung, one of his district chiefs, demanding that Sung extort money from lumber operators in his district and provide Truong with a major portion of the proceeds. Hieu said that Major Sung, who had been Commander of the 8th Regiment, 5 Division, when Hieu was Commanding General of the 5th, was well known in ARVN for his strict honesty. Sung had reported to Hieu the approach made by Col. Truong, saying that he had told Truong that he could not accede to the request and therefore wished to be transferred. Hieu commented to the Embassy officer that Truong was an old associate of LTC Nguyen Van Minh, CG MR 3, and that Hieu was convinced that Minh had appointed Truong as province chief partly in order to ensure his hold over the lucrative lumber trade in Long Khanh. Hieu was recommending that this case be investigated but noted that his depended on President Thieu and on the outcome of contacts between Thieu and LTG Minh.

Nguyen Van Tin
16 March 2014

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